As an actor, I enjoy playing roles, because it gives me the chance to imagine what it would be like to be another person or to live in another set of circumstances. Sometimes, I draw on my life to create my characters. This year I had the opportunity to help write and then act in "Both Sides of the Family," a play about interfaith marriage. Though much of my character was drawn from imagination and not from my life, I found the experience of writing and acting the character, and entering into post-performance discussions with audiences, gave me a chance to reflect on my recently-dissolved second marriage.
My second wife, the mother of my two youngest children, is Christian. Like my younger children, the children of my character's second wife are being raised Christian. "Both Sides of the Family," like many good plays, is open-ended and does not answer every question. Audience members have asked, "What happens next?" Or, "We heard you refer to your second wife in the play; what was life like with her?" I cannot answer those questions for my character, whose life ends when the curtain comes down, but I can be honest with myself about my real life.
It would be easy to say the reason my marriage dissolved was that my wife wasn't Jewish. This is untrue. It would be equally easy to say that having Jewish children from my first marriage, and non-Jewish children from my second, caused insurmountable tension and issues. This also is untrue. I love all four of my children equally. We have a healthy respect for each other's religions. I could also paint the picture, as the play does, of a marriage stressed by compromises about how to celebrate holidays, but that wouldn't do justice to the situation either.
I wasn't listening to and understanding my wife's viewpoints and feelings. This was not restricted to issues related to our faith. It would be a lie if I were to blame our divorce on the fact that she wasn't Jewish. It should have been especially important for us to speak about and agree upon things related to our different faiths that arose during our marriage. We could not have anticipated everything.
I didn't have enough clarity in myself to be able to feel confident in my choice. As a result, I found myself sometimes apologizing, indirectly, because my wife wasn't Jewish, especially at social events in the Jewish community. This showed a lack of loyalty and commitment to my wife that certainly should have been present at all times.
It wasn't easy to be a Jewish parent in a family where the children were being raised Christian. My first Christmas, first Easter, being in Church, prayers at the dinner table, made me uncomfortable. I think these expressions of Christian spirituality were more uncomfortable for my family and friends. I got used to it. At the same time, I wanted to affirm to myself, and publically, that I was a Jew. I decided to celebrate my Bar Mitzvah during the time we were married. I'm not sure that my motives were pure. Perhaps my decision was driven by how I imagined other Jews were judging me, or out of a need to demonstrate to my Jewish children that I was Jewish.
The most important family member in my life, my Mom, was unconditionally supportive of all of my decisions. I am still mourning her loss; she passed away last January, 2007. She provided a model of undying love and loyalty to my Dad, also deceased. Most of our family and friends were right there for us. It was my wife and I who weren't there for each other. There was no one else to blame. Had I been more tuned in, at all levels, issues relating to our different religions would have provided opportunities for an even better bond.
People say that insanity is doing the same thing twice, and expecting a different result. In my case, I have been married twice. I was married first to a Jewish woman and the second time to a Christian woman. There were some common reasons for both marriages not working out. The common ingredient was not their religion. I intend to fully know myself before ever seriously considering marriage, no matter what religion my partner may be.
"Both Sides of the Family" doesn't offer solutions, however; it does offer our audiences a chance to challenge their paradigms, assumptions, and perhaps event their prejudice. I hope that what I have shared about myself, in some way, offers some further insight into the realities of interfaith marriage and families.